Brighton Run

The RACNCC Veteran Car Run from London’s Hyde Park to the Madeira Drive at Brighton, with Benson & Hedges sponsorship and held this year on November 7, has become a national, nay a world-renowned, happening. Never more so, indeed, than this year, with an entry of 460 pre- 1905 vehicles — the police being more lenient over the total allowed in view of the much improved Brighton Road in recent years.

An event of international importance certainly, with veterans being brought from Australia (4), Belgium (7), France (7), Germany (13), Holland (5), Hungary (1), Ireland (3), Luxembourg (1). Norway (2), S Africa (4), Spain (I), Sweden (5), Switzerland (1), Turkey (1) and from the USA (9). To compete would be incorrect, as this is not a race. Leaving the start at around 08.00hrs, with a half-hour dispensation for the oldest entrant (this year Timothy Garrett’s 1893 Benz carried No 1 and was waved away at 7.30hrs), all that is requested of the veterans and their drivers is that they pass the Pylons, some 10 minutes out from the Madeira Drive, not later than 16.00 hrs to qualify for an RAC bronze medal. Easy for some, a tough task for many, especially in the inevitable crush of modern traffic. All credit, then, to the aforesaid Benz, which had finished 10 Runs prior to 1993, cruising on the clear bits of the A23 at 16 mph. . .

The Run commemorates the historic 1896 Emancipation Run, held to celebrate the easing of restrictions on the use of horseless-carriages and the raising of the speed-limit which had formerly applied to them from four to 14 mph. It did not mark the demise of the notorious Red Flag Act, that had so hampered the cause of automobilism in Great Britain, although this legend will persist, as I predicted it would on my November Boddy Language page. Even Colin Wilson, the RAC MSA’s PR, in one of the most useful press packs ever, commits this gaffe. But not so The Autocar in reporting that 1986 Run with an issue printed with red ink on November 14 1896; it simply said that day was “. . . a red-letter day, not only in the history of automobilism, but in that of England itself, for it marks the throwing open of the highways and byways of our beautiful country to those who elect to travel thereupon in motors instead of horse-drawn vehicles or bicycles. Yesterday we were criminals if we ventured on the Queen’s highways, trespassers upon forbidden ground, at the mercy of every officious policeman who sought to secure points for promotion by securing a ‘case’. Today autocar users enjoy the free rights of British citizenship, restricted only as necessary for the comfort and safety of other liege subjects of the Queen, and those same policemen and officials now join in applauding the progress of the motor car.” (Would that this be as true now as it was seen to be in 1896!) It would have been foolish for the Motor Car Club which organised the 1896 Run, or for The Autocar in its red-ink issue of that date to have celebrated the abolition of the need to carry a red flag in front of any “road locomotive” when this had been rescinded by another Act 18 years earlier.. .

Back to 1993, of the impressive Brighton Run entry (although some were destined to be luckless reserves) the most popular make was De Dion Bouton, with 75, followed by 33 Panhard-Levassors, 25 Oldsmobiles, 24 Darracqs, 15 each of Peugeot, Renault and Wolseley, 14 Cadillacs, 10 each of Benz and Gladiator, and nine each of Humber and Mercedes. Among this impressive assembly of veterans valued at the very least at £20-million, some were unique survivors of a given make, like the 1898 Orient Express, 1899 Brown Quad, 1900 SFA Quadricycle and others equally rare, including the last surviving three-cylinder Panhard and the only remaining veteran Rochet Schneider. The list proudly proclaimed the oldest British-made Daimler, the British Road Transport Museum’s 1897 wagonette, the Heritage Trust’s last of the 1899 Riley tricycles, and its first four-wheeled (1899) Wolseley, A Thomas with the world’s oldest Napier, his 1900 G20 double-phaeton, S Southall with the eldest of Lagondas, a 1904 forecar, and the oldest working electric car, an 1897 Roberts Stanhope. Caffyn’s 1899 Benz claimed 51 Brighton Runs up to last year, the 1904 Vauxhall 42, the Dennis had finished in 41, Lord Strathcarron’s Georges Richard in 33.

The public loves “celebrity” veterans and had them in the 1904 Darracq “Genevieve”, back from Australia (and up for auction on December 2), an MCC which was in a Sherlock Holmes film (regardless of the fact that the only cars Holmes was associated with were a Model-T Ford and a big Benz), while the AA’s Renault Type-V parkphaeton has appeared in Those Magnificent Men. . . Those who revere “personal” number plates should have been able to collect visually the Irish MI-1 on a De Dion, AA1 on the AA’s Renault, Lord Palumbo’s A6 on his 1899 Benz, A7 on Jaguar Cars’ 1900 Daimler and AA11 on Lord Montagu’s 1903 Daimler. It was also encouraging to see cars emerging from museums. Thus the York Museum put in two entries, Von Peim and D Ritter ran in the Benz and Mercedes from Stuttgart’s M-B Museum, the BMI Heritage Trust had seven, the NMM three entries, Ramsgate Museum ran its 1903 Wolseley, Nottingham Museum a Celer and Cornwall’s Museum a Peugeot. Ford joined Jaguar and Vauxhall in taking part. The RAC trusted its 1901 Mors to HRH Prince Michael of Kent. The 1902 and 1903 GB Napiers, a Paris-Vienna Renault, an exBrooklands Mercedes, and Don Meyer’s 1904 Peerless on which I went last year, represented the racing-cars, Nick Mason (1901 Panhard) and Phil Hill (1902 Mors) the racing drivers. The VCC of GB put in its 1902 Wolseley for Nick Ridley to drive as usual; he is of course more accustomed to racing his 1914 TT Sunbeam. I had the honour of a place on this car. It is right and proper that the VCC, which helped to develop the Run to its present very high standard, should enter a British car. With such an enormous entry it is impossible to report on each veteran, so let us concentrate on the VCC’s Wolseley.

It is a 1902 10 hp model (BM 719) with a tonneau body and the typical “beehive” radiator and single headlamp. I first met this type of Wolseley in 1935, when I went on the Run in Peter Pointer’s similar car (BJ 53), which still takes part. It had been used by a clergyman in Suffolk until about 1920, then dismantled. Mr Painter had it reassembled ready for the 1954 Run. It performed well in 1956, administered to by its owner’s chaufleur and engineer, who followed in his Mk VII Jaguar. It boiled slightly on the hills, when hot water went onto my feet, but it got along effectively, to the rattle of the long transmission chains and spit-and-miss of its low-speed engine, which peaks at about 750 rpm.

These cars are typical of “Pa” Austin’s early designs, the 2.6-litre two-cylinder horizontally-opposed engine under the floor in line with the frame, with suction inlet valves, trembler-coil ignition, a long chain taking the drive to a 4-speed gearbox, another long chain driving the back-axle. The history of the VCC’s Wolseley has not been fully unravelled. It seems likely that W Worby Beaumont was its first owner, but nothing much more is known about it until the Allens of Oxford acquired it and presumably reregistered it, after l had inspected it on behalf of the VCC in Leeds in 1945, when it was UB7309. The club bought it for £80. It later did around a dozen successful “Brightons” when owned by Major James Gardiner, that delightful eccentric. After his death in 1971 it became officially the Club car, and in 1984 carried Prince Michael of Kent to Brighton. Tony Smallbone has cured its boiling proclivities and eased its once-heavy steering, and Roger Steer of Brentcastle Ltd made it ready for this year’s Run, and past VCC President Nick Ridley said it was now “running like a train”. Rather better, then, than the similar but solid-tyred 1901 Wolseley on which l went on the 1978 Run. . .

You crank up from the near-side. The dash carries the 12 oilers, glass-tube petrol gauge and the luxury of a clock. The hand parking brake has an enormous ratchet rack. Piano-type pedals, a transmission foot-brake coupled to the carburetter which slows the engine as you brake, and the unhurriable quadrant gearchange which has to be used to humour a “one-speed” engine, fully occupy a new driver’s attention. But these Wolseleys were good. Kent Karslake once wrote: “It is not hard to see why this was the most popular English car of its day. I have never travelled on any car nearly half a century old on which I was so confident it would reach the end of its journey without giving trouble. The inherent soundness of its engineering positively declares itself at every turn of the wheels.”

After which, is it any wonder that yet again the VCC’s Wolseley did this year’s Run with no problems, arriving triumphantly, four-up, around midday.

The first commemoration of the 1896 Emancipation Run happened in 1927 (51 entries) as a newspaper “Old Crocks Race” to Brighton but was made more dignified by The Autocar’s co-operation in 1928. It was then taken over by the VCC and later by the RAC. What a commendably long way it has come since that original Daily Sketch/ Sunday Graphic stunt!